CARSON CITY, Nev. — Over the objections of nearly a dozen who oppose creation of a permanent bear hunting season, the Legislative Commission on Wednesday approved the regulation designed to do so.
The protests have grown steadily since the Wildlife Commission created the first-ever hunting season for black bears in Nevada.
Assemblywoman Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, pointed out that it's not the commission's job to question the policy involved. She said the commission is charged with determining whether an agency has the authority to adopt a given regulation and whether it meets the intent of state law.
“Based on that, I'll vote supporting this regulation,” she said.
Commission Vice Chairman Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, said she was voting against the regulation primarily because she is concerned about public safety, with hunters shooting at bears near busy recreational trails in the Tahoe Basin. She cited the recent shooting death of a hiker in Oregon by a bear hunter. Leslie's was the only “no” vote.
The hunt is already under way in western Nevada, and wildlife officials say 10 bears have been shot. The issue before the Legislative Commission Wednesday was whether to approve regulations allowing the Wildlife Commission to make the hunt an annual event.
A group called No Bear Hunt Nevada has collected more than 18,000 names of people who oppose the hunt.
Billy Howard of Reno said repeated surveys in area newspapers show that the vast majority of people oppose hunting bears. Several representatives of that group argued that the bear population at Tahoe is so small — as few as 150 — that hunting could wipe them out.
They also say it's dangerous to suddenly allow bear hunting in the Tahoe Basin.
Margaret Martini of Incline Village described it as a decision “displeasing many, many people who use this area for recreation for the pleasure of a few who want to hunt.”
But Rich Haskins of Wildlife said hunting is far from new to the basin.
“California hunts bears at Tahoe. They've been doings that for decades,” he said adding that Nevada annually permits hunting of deer, mountain lions and grouse among other species in the basin. He said not only have no objections have ever been raised about those hunts; no one has been shot.
Donna Dunbar said Incline officials strongly oppose the hunt, in part because they believe it would endanger the tourist business at Tahoe.
“There's millions of dollars at stake for non-hunt recreation,” she said.
Lloyd Peak of Reno told the commission it's irresponsible not to at least post signs along hiking trails to tell people they may run into hunters — especially to warn tourists who may not know about the hunt.
Haskins said he has no problem with that suggestion.
Wildlife issued 38 tags for the initial hunt now under way. Haskins said 10 bears have been killed, four of them female. That note is important because once six female bears are dead, the season will be closed down. In addition, it's illegal to shoot a mother bear with cubs. Haskins said Wildlife officials have examined all the kills and none of the females was lactating — producing the milk she would be if she had cubs.
Haskins said none of the bears killed thus far has been killed in the Tahoe Basin.